The Palestinians have faded from view lately. There’s been an “Arab Spring,” an intensifying Iranian issue, elections in the U.S., economic travails. True, the Obama administration and the EU keep forking over funds to the Palestinian Authority. But the obsession with securing sovereign statehood for the Palestinians seems to have fallen off lately.
Will it return? That may — or may not — depend in part on who gets crowned U.S. president in November. For decades both Republican and Democratic administrations have — like much of the rest of the world — elevated Palestinian statehood into a supreme goal. But recent developments suggest that a rethink is necessary.
There is, to begin with, the “Arab Spring” itself. Not much more than a year ago, it was still seen in some quarters as a harbinger of democracy and progress. But by now this “spring” has dissolved into a spectacle of empowered Islamism, anarchy, and severe brutality — particularly, at present, in the daily atrocity stories from Syria.
Against this backdrop, it needs to be asked whether creating still another Arab state — a Palestinian one — would be either prudent or moral. Indeed, several of the already-existing Arab states were 20th-century Western creations. Of these, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, for instance, have been afflicted with internal strife sometimes escalating to the mass murder of tens of thousands of people. All the 21 sovereign states of the Arab League are dictatorships beset with corruption and poverty. Neither the “Arab Spring” nor the earlier, vaunted democratization project of President George W. Bush has changed this situation, suggesting how deep-seated the pathologies are.
The two already-existing Palestinian entities, of course, exhibit the pathologies. Semisovereign, Hamas-run Gaza is an Islamist dictatorship that fires rockets into Israel. The West Bank Palestinian Authority — autonomous under ultimate Israeli security control — is also a dictatorship, torture rampant in its prisons, journalists muzzled. Its corruption is notorious. And like Gaza, the West Bank PA is an incubator of anti-Israeli incitement and hatred. As for internal strife, already in 2007 Hamas and Fatah fought a vicious skirmish in Gaza, throwing each other off tall buildings.
Even apart from the seemingly intractable problem of the Palestinians’ bifurcation into Hamas-run Gaza and the Fatah-dominated PA, it is, then, hard to see how conferring full sovereignty on the Palestinians would promote peace with Israel, or U.S. and Western interests. Terror and possibly war with Israel, further destabilizing rather than stabilizing the region, would be much more probable from any empirical standpoint.
To this the likely objection is that the status quo is “untenable,” that Israel cannot keep “ruling” (i.e., maintaining security control over) the West Bank without losing its Jewish-democratic character.
“Untenable,” however, is a figment of Western and some Israeli imaginations. It essentially means “morally untenable.” But creating yet another Arab dictatorship is hardly a moral requirement. The fact that about four million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza live without the full sovereignty — for what it’s worth — formally possessed by over 300 million of their Arab brethren in the Arab dictatorships is not something to toss and turn at night over.
A variant of the “untenable” claim is the “demographic argument,” which says the Israeli Jewish population will soon be swamped by the total Arab-Palestinian population between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. That argument, though, is irrelevant to Gaza now that Israel has left it. And as for the West Bank, the vast majority of the Palestinians in it live under PA jurisdiction in all areas of life including educational, religious, legal, administrative, and even most aspects of internal security.
They are, in short, not part of the Israeli polity and no more demographically relevant to it than their Gaza counterparts. Moreover, the latest data show that even the supposedly higher Arab-Palestinian fertility rate is declining while the Israeli Jewish rate is on the upswing.
There are, indeed, downsides for Israel in the current situation. Gaza with its fast-growing arsenal of rockets and other weapons is a security problem that may in fact become untenable, forcing decisive Israeli military action and possible partial or full reoccupation. And in the West Bank, the high degree of autonomy Israel grants has meant allowing PA hate education to continue, carrying the potential for security eruptions as well.
But these are problems for Israel to handle. For the U.S., there would be no upside to resuming the pressure on Israel to pursue a chimerical “peace.” Far too much U.S. and European attention has already been lavished on the Palestinians compared to other, truly distressed populations of the world. It’s time to kick the habit.